Smart Agriculture; Putting Pareto’s Rule Into Perspective.

Smart agriculture is a concept that can be mistaken with innovative farming. Innovative farming could in a way encompass the ability of increasing agricultural output using non-conventional ways. It could not necessarily mean infusion of sensor technology. In a simpler form, incorporating sensor technology with ICT into farming, qualifies it to be smart farming. It does not end there, it goes a little deeper, and what does the technology do for you? You use it to control the variables in your farm such as fertilizer input, watering solutions, pesticides application and many others. This concept is aimed at maximizing output for the modern agribusiness entrepreneur. It makes exactly him/her understand the challenge and hence precisely deal with it soonest possible.

Having understood the underlying principle in smart farming, I could like to connect it with Pareto’s rule or as it is commonly known, the 80/20 rule. Vilfredo Pareto, an economist, observed by experimentation with peas in his garden that only a “vital few” of the pods produced majority of the peas. That is why the law is sometimes referred to as the law of vital few or principle of factor sparsity. This principle has been widely accepted and usually explains most of life’s outcomes. In this article I will try to relate the rule with smart farming in helping maximize the output even further.

In the farm of the future, many of the animals we keep will be fitted with a chip that will be connected with our phones to communicate one time with us. We will be able to monitor their body temperature, we will know when for instance the cow is on heat and needs insemination and we will be able to know where the animals are and what exactly they could be doing. What if it is only 20% of the animals that account for 80% of the output? Putting it into context, if the farmer can identify the 20% of the cows that produce 80% of the milk, it calls for sense that the farmer provides an extra care for the animals that provide the most output while carefully monitoring the other 80%. In business, it is easier and cheap to maintain a repeat customer than winning a new one.

While at the Firesight Chat last week, I learnt that some countries are creating specific localized “ponds” within the oceans for doing fish farming. Other fishermen are using technology, satellite mapping, to locate where there are more fish to avoid time wastage in gambling all over the ocean. As a fish farmer in Kirinyaga, one can use sensor technology to monitor the amount of ammonia in the water to avoid fish poisoning. Other advanced technologies can be used to monitor the fish one by one. The bond can also be integrated with the phone to allow the farmer release food to the fish in their absence. Further to that, the farmer can monitor the fish that lays the highest number of eggs and the healthiest male so that they can be carefully taken care of. The eggs can then be harvested when the female is ready to release them and the male fertilizes them. The fertilized eggs are finally taken good care of in specialized bonds for the fingerlings. It is being done in Israel, Singapore, USA and many more other countries.

In a discussion with my friends, Lewis and Robert, they asked me how one can monitor a five thousand acre crop farm. I thought for a while and then allowed my thoughts to flow freely and connect my imagination, knowledge and what is done elsewhere. First, such a farm can use cable sensors at specific locations to measure humidity levels, p.H levels in the soil, the water content in the soil and do the very specific requirement. Through satellite mapping and drone monitoring, one can know what is happening in every location of the farm. In the control room within the farm, then various conclusions are drawn and the necessary mitigation put in place. If water levels are few, by a click of a button on a palm gadget or a desktop, the tap opens for the water and allows for irrigation. The modern farm will be very digital and technologically advanced.

Smartfarming-hydroponic
Hydroponic farm in South Africa. An example of a smart farm technologically controlled.

Where does big data fit in this scenario? I am sure with the relaying of real time data in a farm from the chicken farm, cow ranch, pig farm and even crop farm, the farmers are going to have a lot of data at their disposal. For instance, a farmer will be able to know the number of eggs laid by each hen, the feeding patterns and even the health parameters such as temperature. A farmer will also be having data for each cow on their milk amounts, feeding trends, growth rate, number of calves, body weight and body temperature. This data is a crucial aspect for the farmer to identify the 20%of the farm animals that produce the 80% output. The animals can be separated, fed, tended and cared for accordingly while at the same time continuously monitoring and improving the 80% of the other animals.

From the crop farms, the farmer will be able to monitor soil p.H hourly, humidity levels, production per each segments, fertilizer amounts, and plant growth rates versus the weeds growth rate.  The production per each segment will be compared to the varying data of the various variables to help in panning for increased output from the farm. The trends from the data are also crucial to help the farm in strategizing, planning and speculatively projecting on the income from the farms.

In a little future, we will receive texts in our phone from a cow that it is on heat or one that needs to be milked. A section of the crop farm would text us that it is short of calcium and the chicken could tell us that they have finished laying the eggs for the day and even report the number of the eggs. A beef cow will complain to us via a text that it has not been fed well or that it didn’t get its daily dose of the required iron mineral doze. It would look surprising but that is where we are headed. Once we understand the specific challenges bringing about the 80/20 rule in production, we can address the challenges and it now it becomes a 90/100 rule. That transformation is a huge metamorphosis and a huge increase in the yield output.

Smart farming is the secret for the smart farmer. It will not be overnight especially in the Kenyan scenario since we need some advanced technology platforms plus some of the technological know-how. Again for the farmer to reap from the infusion of the technology, they will have to incur some initial costs. They could not be very hefty or rather very expensive that they are unaffordable. Some of the technologies will be locally build by our young computer scientists and computer technology innovators. We only need to be ready. The easy ones we can begin with, we can embrace and implement them. We are the agents of harnessing the best within our jurisdiction using technology as a leveraging tool.

Copyright @ 2017

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Manufacturing, Technology, Innovation, Governance, Management and International Emerging Issues. For featuring, promotions or support, reach out to us at dailyfocus9@gmail.com
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